South India Writers’ Ensemble

BY MITRA PHUKAN

These days, Litfests are a common enough occurrence in our country. They happen regularly, mostly during the winter months when the land settles with a sigh of relief that the heat and the dust are done with, and salubrious times are upon us again. But even during the summer months, there are Litfests, mostly in the hill areas of the land.

 

These Litfests are usually a happy mix of the serious, the sublime, and the congenial. Festival directors work from months ahead of the scheduled start date. The main thing is, as always, the budget. Once that is decided upon, and commitments for sponsorships, advertisements and donations received, the actual task of planning the event begins.

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After the theme of the Festival is decided upon, the dates, the different sessions and their topics are worked out. The complex task of getting writers and speakers to participate takes a long time to co ordinate. There is also the question of Entertainment, how the participants will spend their evenings. Sightseeing trips have to be organized, too. There is the media, which has to be present, and which has to be given allotted slots with the different participants for interviews. All in all, it’s a highly complex affair, quite exhausting

 

Some major festivals outsource it to an experienced event management firm. Indeed, “Litfest Organizing” is now, it seems, a specialized branch of Event Management itself! By the time the logistics and hotel bookings are confirmed, it’s time for the Festival.

 

Most of the biggies in the field of Litfests take place in the larger cities. Jaipur is the Big Daddy of them all, of course. Crowded, energetic, exhausting, fun, and extremely educative, it’s in a class by itself. Authors are looked after very well. But there are so many other Litfests, too. Each one has its own distinctive flavour, its unique character, depending on how the curating is done, who is participating, and of course the Theme of that year. And not every one takes place in a big city itself.

 

Recently, PAMPA (People for Performing Arts and More) hosted the third edition of SIWE (South India Writers’ Ensemble) in the small but culturally rich town of Chenganur in Kerala’s Alapuzha District on 24, 25 and 26 July. An area of lush greenery and vibrant cultural activities, the town is on the bank of the pretty Pampa river which bordered the venue in a brown ribbon of swirling waters. The two areas in the venue were named Brahmaputra and Pampa, for reasons that will be apparent soon.

 

This year, the focus of the Festival was on India’s Northeast. Quite a few well known writers, in English as well as in regional languages, were invited to participate in the various sessions, and also to read out from their works. Recognizing the richness of the literatures coming out of the Northeast, as well as its vast diversity, the panels included poets and writers from Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, as well as, of course, other regions of the country, working in different languages. It was evident that the panels themselves were well thought out, as were the inclusion of people who spoke in them. The mix of opinions, and languages in which the writers worked, reflected the huge multiplicity of our literary heritage, and the work that is being done at this time.

 

The inauguration itself, on the evening of the 24th, was a simple but very meaningful affair. Stalwarts such as literary legend Ambai, TP Rajeevan and others spoke at this. The President of the organization, P C Vishnunadh,MLA, gave a significant speech. Representing the group from the NorthEast, this writer gave a brief speech on the significance of contemporary writings of the region.

 

The very first session of the festival, after the inauguration ,was “Guns and Guitars: Literature, Revolt and the Question of Identity.” Moderated by Jahnavi Barua, panelists Dhruba Hazarika and this writer attempted to give an overview of the history, cultural traditions, literary legacy, anthropological variety, languages and other aspects of the region known as India’s Northeast. It was heartening that the audience listened raptly, and eagerly put forward questions later.

 

Throughout the three day festival, it was encouraging to see the kind of interest that the audience had for the literature of our region. Each session was very well attended by genuine devotees of literature. It was also very enriching for the writers from this region to listen to, and interact with stalwarts working in other languages of the country, especially Malayalam.

 

Among the writers and poets from the Northeast who participated in the festival were, besides the authors mentioned, also Ananya S Guha, AnupamaBasumatari, Apurba Kumar Saikia, Nitoo Das, Rita Krocha, Robin Ngangom, and Streamlet Dkhar. This was in addition to the authors from other regions of the country, too.

 

Among the other very interesting panel discussions were “Poetry in a Noisy World”, moderated by Arundhati Subramaniam, in which poets Robin Ngangom, Hemant Devate and Savithri Rajeevan spoke feelingly. There were topics of contemporary significance such as “Towards Unhad: Cultural Symbiosis and the Secular Fabric of India”, ‘Endangered Imagination: Limits of Storytelling in a Polarized World, ” “Narrator vs Inquisitor: Censoring from Within and Without” . There was also the very interesting panel discussion on “The Muse in the Marketplace”, where the panelists discussed marketing one’s work.

 

The evenings too had distinct and absorbing offerings, the first being a dance programme by the Kerala Kalamandalam. The second day saw the screening of the very thought-provoking documentary “Maruvili” on the renowned poet Atoor Ravi Varma, directed by Anvar Ali.

 

The warmth and hospitality of the organizers, especially the Director, PAMPA, Kanaka Hama, and her team, was flawless. Special local delicacies were served throughout the three days of the Festival, and no stone was left unturned to make the guests feel at home at Pampateera.

 

Festivals of this kind serve as a bridge by which we can understand each others’ cultures, literatures and ways of life. The SIWE festival has been successful in bringing together a diverse group, with a common love of literature, and promoting understanding and ultimately, peace.

 

 

 

Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan is a writer, translator, columnist and classical vocalist who lives and works in Guwahati, Assam. Her published literary works include four children's books, a biography, and a novel, "The Collector's Wife". Her most recent work is another novel, "A Monsoon of Music" published by Penguin-Zubaan in September 2011. Besides, her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her works have been translated into several languages. She is the Northeast correspondent of the Chennai-based journal of the performing arts, "Shruti" and a member of the North East Writers' Forum.